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PeerJ. 2019 Aug 9;7:e7470. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7470. eCollection 2019.

Musculoskeletal models of a human and bonobo finger: parameter identification and comparison to in vitro experiments.

Author information

Institute of Lightweight Design and Structural Biomechanics, TU Wien, Vienna, Austria.
Laboratory for Innovation in Autism, School of Education, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
Animal Postcranial Evolution Lab, Skeletal Biology Research Centre, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom.
Department of Development and Regeneration, University of Leuven, Kortrijk, Belgium.
Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium.
Center for Research and Conservation KMDA, Astridplein, Antwerpen, Belgium.
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Anatomy and Biomechanics, Karl Landsteiner Private University of Health Sciences, Krems an der Donau, Austria.



Knowledge of internal finger loading during human and non-human primate activities such as tool use or knuckle-walking has become increasingly important to reconstruct the behaviour of fossil hominins based on bone morphology. Musculoskeletal models have proven useful for predicting these internal loads during human activities, but load predictions for non-human primate activities are missing due to a lack of suitable finger models. The main goal of this study was to implement both a human and a representative non-human primate finger model to facilitate comparative studies on metacarpal bone loading. To ensure that the model predictions are sufficiently accurate, the specific goals were: (1) to identify species-specific model parameters based on in vitro measured fingertip forces resulting from single tendon loading and (2) to evaluate the model accuracy of predicted fingertip forces and net metacarpal bone loading in a different loading scenario.

Materials & Methods:

Three human and one bonobo (Pan paniscus) fingers were tested in vitro using a previously developed experimental setup. The cadaveric fingers were positioned in four static postures and load was applied by attaching weights to the tendons of the finger muscles. For parameter identification, fingertip forces were measured by loading each tendon individually in each posture. For the evaluation of model accuracy, the extrinsic flexor muscles were loaded simultaneously and both the fingertip force and net metacarpal bone force were measured. The finger models were implemented using custom Python scripts. Initial parameters were taken from literature for the human model and own dissection data for the bonobo model. Optimized model parameters were identified by minimizing the error between predicted and experimentally measured fingertip forces. Fingertip forces and net metacarpal bone loading in the combined loading scenario were predicted using the optimized models and the remaining error with respect to the experimental data was evaluated.


The parameter identification procedure led to minor model adjustments but considerably reduced the error in the predicted fingertip forces (root mean square error reduced from 0.53/0.69 N to 0.11/0.20 N for the human/bonobo model). Both models remained physiologically plausible after the parameter identification. In the combined loading scenario, fingertip and net metacarpal forces were predicted with average directional errors below 6° and magnitude errors below 12%.


This study presents the first attempt to implement both a human and non-human primate finger model for comparative palaeoanthropological studies. The good agreement between predicted and experimental forces involving the action of extrinsic flexors-which are most relevant for forceful grasping-shows that the models are likely sufficiently accurate for comparisons of internal loads occurring during human and non-human primate manual activities.


Bonobo; Finger; Forces; Human; Loading; Metacarpal; Musculoskeletal model; Optimization

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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